Thursday, February 16, 2017

Make Atheism Great Again!



As I spend more and more time in the atheist community I've been beginning to notice a fairly common and recurring theme. And that is, sadly, that atheists can be just as close-minded, and dogmatic, and tribalistic, and ignorant on the issues as almost any religious person can.

Atheists have a reputation for being rational, free thinkers—more knowledgeable on religion than the religious are, and more knowledgeable on science than the general public is. There is certainly some truth to that. But there is also certainly some truth to the notion that being an atheist doesn't automatically make you rational. And it should be patently obvious to all that atheism is by no means an inoculation against irrational views.

As someone who's a very thoughtful and intellectual atheist and who's deeply familiar with most of the subjects relevant to atheism, I can say for sure that I encounter irrational views all the time among my fellow atheists, ranging from politics, to science, to a whole spectrum of social issues—and it pains me when I hear atheists say incredibly stupid things. So I'm going to outline a few problems I see in the atheist community and offer some remedies on how atheists can fix them.

1) Stop saying philosophy is dead. The one thing that pisses me off the most that I keep hearing atheists say over and over is that "philosophy is dead because hey, we've got science now!" This is a very popular view among atheists that is also ceaselessly reiterated by some of the most high profile people in the community, most notably Stephen Hawkins and Lawrence Krauss. But they're completely wrong and here's why.

Science can never replace philosophy because they do too different things. Science is an epistemology, it's a series of methods for understanding the world we experience that uses hypotheses, repeatable experiments, and formulating theories that explain facts. But not every fact is best obtained through science, and indeed, science itself has to make philosophical assumptions that it cannot prove. For example, what the scientific method should be  and what science is (and there are disagreements) cannot be resolved by science, it has to be resolved by philosophy. And this means philosophy is more fundamental to science, and covers a wider range of topics.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cost Of Corporate Welfare


I'm back, with a new look. My site now has a white background with black font for all of you who were having trouble reading it before. The old colors did effect my eyes a little too, especially when switching between sites with different backgrounds. So I hope you enjoy.

I ran across a post a few months ago about the cost of corporate welfare to the average American Family. As reported by Common Dreams, The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business.

If this is true it's staggering. The sources seem pretty legit, citing, among others, the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank, no friend of big government.

The $6,000 a year price tag bottoms down to:

1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies
2. $696 for Business Incentives at the State, County, and City Levels
3. $722 for Interest Rate Subsidies for Banks
4. $350 for Retirement Fund Bank Fees
5. $1,268 for Overpriced Medications
6. $870 for Corporate Tax Subsidies
7. $1,231 for Revenue Losses from Corporate Tax Havens

Both liberals and libertarians should join sides and work together to end corporate subsidies and send that money back to working families. I could sure use an extra $6,000 a year. The Federalist examined this article and has determined that the actual cost is $2,436 per year. They cut out numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 from their list, probably because, as a libertarian leaning organization, they're fine with interest rate subsidies for banks, retirement fund bank fees, overpriced medications, and corporate tax havens. Other interpretations of the source that make this argument have the total at $4,000 per family. Regardless of whether it's $6,000, $4,000, or $2,436, it's too much, and we need to set ideologies aside and work together to end corporate welfare.


Time For A New Look


So I've had a few people complain that it's hard to read my site because of the white text on the black background and that I should change the color. Technically, the text on my sight is a light gray, and the background is not truly black. But the point's taken.

The reason why my site background is black is because I read years ago that black backgrounds use less power than white backgrounds, and that by turning millions of websites black we can save tons of energy. Well, I did some recent research on this and it turns out this isn't true. For LCD monitors—the flat kind that almost everyone uses, they don't use any more power to keep the screen white than black, and in fact might even use less power for a white screen. The old CRT monitors did use more power for a white screen background, but nobody in first world countries uses them anymore.

So the original reason why I made my site black turns out to be false. As such, I am planning to make my site background white, or maybe a light gray, and the text black, as most sites are. I'm keeping the same font, however, because I like it. So expect some aesthetic changes in the near future here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Would Let Milo Speak On Campus, Under One Condition




A week ago the "dangerous faggot" Milo Yianopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley University in California and some students violently protested and set fire to parts of the campus in opposition to him speaking there. This was widely reported in the news, and even the president tweeted that he'd withhold federal money from the campus if the university didn't allow free speech.

Much has been said about the kerfuffle, from how intolerant the Left is, to how all this protesting just raises Milo's profile, to how hateful his speech is. But I have a proposal. If I were the head of a university making the decision on whether or not an alt-righter like Milo gets to speak on my campus my policy would be this. I would allow Milo to speak on one condition. If he wants to speak on my campus, the format will be a debate. That's right. He can spew all his nonsense talk about how "Catholics are right about everything," but not in a way that it goes unchallenged. It's a debate or nothing. That's it.

I'm sure Milo wouldn't have a problem with that. Would he? The thing is, the Left indeed has lost the ability to debate and defend their views. They rely far too much on feelings and persecution complexes. The Left needs to learn how to debate again. And I'd use this as an opportunity to find the person who can best debate Milo and make it a must-see spectacle for all.

That just brings up one question: who's the best person on the Left to debate the dangerous faggot? I'd love to debate him, but I'm unfortunately a nobody. So this is an open question for me. Anyone properly debating him must be familiar with his arguments. Some generic Leftist who doesn't "get it" would be destroyed. Perhaps Kyle Kulinkski of Secular Talk? Hmm.

Just a thought.

Is Supporting The Rights Of Muslims Hypocrisy?


I'm a part of several politically oriented groups on Facebook and recently this meme below showed up on my feed by a conservative showing an apparent hypocrisy in what Democrats do:


The thing is, you can support someone's civil rights even without agreeing with them on their political and social attitudes. Anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows I'm one of the biggest critics of Islam there is. I detest almost everything about Islam. But I will respect and stand up for the rights and civil liberties of Muslims to not be unfairly discriminated against and mistreated.

What does "Dixon Diaz" think Democrats should do? Fight for the removal of civil liberties from Muslim people in the US because we may disagree with them on certain things? Think of it this way. Should I, as a Democrat, stand up for the rights of Republicans to not be discriminated against even though I vehemently oppose their views? I'm sure every Republican would say "yes." In fact, many Republicans are complaining now that Democrats and liberals aren't standing up for the free speech of Republicans, particularly on college campuses. So there you go.

Now it's one thing to support someone's civil rights, it's another thing to support their agenda. I'm against supporting the agenda of Muslims who do not agree with the very civil rights I'd protect, who instead support regressive laws and policies. But I still think they deserve basic civil liberties. Liberals just need to be fully aware of this distinction, and so do conservatives like the guy who made this meme. Supporting someone's civil rights does not entail you support their views. And without doing this, no one would have any rights.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Less Than A Third Of Americans Think Being A Christian Is Very Important To Being An American


As I've said before, PEW is a treasure trove for data geeks like me. A recent report on national identity offered up a surprising poll. When people were surveyed in several different Western countries on whether being a Christian is very important for being truly the nationality of the country, I was surprised to see that in Germany, among millennials 18-34, 0 percent think it's important. Zero. And in many other countries such as the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain, have percentages in the single digits in the same demographic. The West is secularizing faster than I expected. In another generation when today's older generation is gone, religion in many European countries will almost be non-existent, at least among the native population.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Interview With An Iraqi Refugee


So a few days ago president Trump signed an executive order banning all nationals from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, and Somalia from entering the US for 3 months, and all refugees from these countries for 180 days, until (apparently) our government can figure out "what the hell is going on." Now aside from the evidence that there were zero deaths in the US by nationals from those countries over the last 40 years from terror related activities, and there have been plenty from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, curiously not on the list, the reason given by the Trump administration was "danger."

But what can we say? It's Trump. He's not a rational actor. The news of the ban though, reminded me of my own friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an Iraqi refugee and secular activist who came to the US in 2013. The ban for him is personal, since if it happened 4 years ago he wouldn't have been able to make it into the US, despite him being an atheist and secular activist who argues against Islamic extremism.

Below is the interview of him we had on the Firebrands Podcast last month (which you should totally check out) about his experiences and work as a secular activist trying to reform Islam.



Monday, January 30, 2017

The Justice Democrats



Recently, a new movement in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has begun. It's called the Justice Democrats. It's to reform the Democratic Party away from the corporate wing, and back to the populism of its roots. It's democrats that represent the people, not corporations. I learned about it a week ago on Kyle Kulinksi's SecularTalk YouTube channel. It's a collaboration between him, The Young Turks, and I think maybe a few other organizations and it's right up Bernie Sanders's alley. Watch below as Kyle explains the platform and read it for yourself here.



I basically agree with the entire platform. This is what the Democratic Party should be about, and this is what "Our Revolution" that Bernie Sanders advocates for is all about. So go to their website, donate, and sign up if you can. Share on social media. We need grassroots Democrats who will work for the people, and not the corporations.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Notes From My Debate On The Abundance Of Open Source Information


What my position is: Open source information is more beneficial than harmful to society. Why?
  1. Access to open source information is a free speech issue. Your ability to put information online and have other people freely access to it, falls under the category of open source information, is a form of free speech. 
  2. OSI can help expose corruption, it can help keep governments and businesses in check, and it allows legitimate criticism of them to become known.
    • We take for granted that we live in a country that has some of the most liberal laws on free access to information in the world.
    • In most other countries the government imposes limitations on access to information online. 
    • And in some countries criticism of the government, leaders, criticism of the state religion, and certain political views like “democracy” and OSI itself are suppressed, and information about them is restricted. For example:
      • The “Great Firewall of China,” blocks websites that are critical of the Chinese government or that promote democracy
      • Wikipedia - epitome of OSI - is sometimes banned, or censored.
      • Without OSI political and corporate corruption becomes much more difficult to expose, thereby enabling it.
  3. OSI allows for the spread of liberal values like free speech, human rights, and secularism around the world.
    • In Saudi Arabia in 2012 a blogger named Raif Badawi was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison plus 1000 lashes with a whip for the crime of starting a website forum that promoted democracy and liberal values and allowed people to debate it.
    • Saudi Arabia not alone --- In other countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Iran, they have laws against spreading information online critical of the state religion Islam, which is often used by govt to brutally oppresses women, homosexuals, non-religious people, and other minority groups.
      • Woman beheaded in Afghanistan last month for shopping without a male guardian.
    • Without OSI antiquated legal and moral policies can never be criticized, which enables them to persist. OSI allows for moral progress.
    • Hope I don't have to convince you this is good but consider the question:
  4. Why do so many countries around the world fear open source information?
    • Do you think ISIS is for OSI? Or Al-qaeda? Or North Korea? Cuba? China? 
    • It’s so that governments, and in many cases, corporations can control people by controlling what information they have access to. 
    • Free speech and OSI is absolutely fundamental to having a free society where ideas can compete in a marketplace.
      • Every society that isn’t free, restricts it
    • The suppression of OSI has always been aligned with dictatorship, of one form or another.
      • Even Donald Trump's been saying he wants to "open up the libel laws" to make it more easy to sue someone for defamation - by which he really means write anything critical about him.
Summary
  • Whatever harmful effects that OSI has, like fake news, is negated on the benefits it offers. 
    • We’re either going to have a censored internet (China, Saudi Arabia) where someone or some organization censors the information you have access to. 
    • Or we’re going to have a free and open internet, with a free and open flow of ideas. 
  • Ask yourself: Who would you trust with the authority to regulate free access to open access to information? Who gets to determine what information is harmful? Or too sensitive? 
  • Would you for example trust our new president Donald Trump with that power?
Final point:
  • Giving governments the ability the regulate free speech opens up a dangerous slippery slope that I don’t want to go down & I think ultimately be more harmful than good to society.

Review Of My Debate Plus Night Of Philosophy


So, what a week it's been. President Trump has banned refugees and residents from 7 Muslim majority countries, sparking outrage around the world, he revived the Keystone pipeline, and has introduced "alternative facts" into the dialectic. Oh yeah, and I had a debate about the abundance of open source information and attended the Night of Philosophy event at the Brooklyn Public Library.

First things first — the debate review. This was my first formal public debate and I hope will certainly not be my last, but I was not as experienced as our opponents were and it showed. They were both fairly experienced and formidable debaters. The format was two-on-two, with my friend Thomas Kim, who ran the NYC debate group for 5 years on my team. And on our opponent's team were two men named Avi and Lenny. Avi is an assistant coach on the debating team of a private K-12 school, and Lenny was on the debating team in college. They did a really good job debating for their side and we made some mistakes we should have looked out for.


First, Thomas and I didn't prepare as much as the other team did, and that was generally evident. Second, I wasn't as forceful as I should have been. I was just too reserved. I held back from trying to make the other team's arguments look bad. Third, since there was no rebuttal period, the closing statements acted effectively as a rebuttal period, but I didn't use my closing statement to do that. Instead I just reiterated many of the same points I made in my opening statement when I should've rebutted the other team's arguments. On top of that, Thomas's arguments were even less forceful than mine, making our entire case much softer and less polemic than our opponent's. And as a result of all these mistakes, we lost. And I really hate losing debates. How do we know we lost? The audience was asked before and after the debate and more people switched to the other side's view from ours.

So that's the bad. What's the good? I nailed my opening statement. It was nearly perfect and much better than any of my rehearsals. I was loud. I was confident. I gave great fucking opening speech. A woman even came up afterwards and told me how good it was. But unfortunately, it was all down hill from there. I will be putting up the bullet points from my debate in the near future.

Over all it was a good experience. I learned a lot and I can definitely see what makes a good public debater a good debater. I can see now why so many inexperienced public debaters just skip to their prepared speeches. That's the mistake I made. I didn't use my time to rebut my opponent's arguments as I should have. Also, many debaters just aren't aware of the format they're in. I made that mistake by failing to recognize there was no formal rebutting period. But I will definitely be better for my second debate. Here are some pictures:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Quote Of The Day: The Psychological Effects Compulsive Liars Have On Us


It's day four of the Trump regime and the post-truth era. Trump has spent his first few days issuing executive orders reversing Obama's policies, and blatantly lying to the world about the size of his inauguration crowd and that millions of illegals voting cost him the popular vote. It's clear that we're going to have a president completely detached from factual reality who has absolutely no shame lying whatsoever. But what kind of psychological effect can this have on people? Politico has a scary answer:

When we are in an environment headed by someone who lies, so often, something frightening happens: We stop reacting to the liar as a liar. His lying becomes normalized. We might even become more likely to lie ourselves. Trump is creating a highly politicized landscape where everyone is on the defensive: You’re either for me, or against me; if you win, I lose, and vice versa. Fiery Cushman, a moral psychologist at Harvard University, put it this way when I asked him about Trump: “Our moral intuitions are warped by the games we play.” Place us in an environment where it’s zero-sum, dog-eat-dog, party-eats-party, and we become, in game theory terms, “intuitive defectors,” meaning our first instinct is not to cooperate with others but to act in our own self-interest—which could mean disseminating lies ourselves.

Welcome to the post-truth era! Facts, it's been nice knowing ya!

Monday, January 23, 2017

I Will Be Publicly Debating Whether Open Source Information Is Harmful


I'm going to be publicly debating whether open source information is more harmful than beneficial to society this Thursday night at WeWork Times Square in Manhattan. If you're in the area and want to come, you can RSVP here. It will be a team debate, two-on-two, done in the style and format of the popular Intelligence Squared debates. The debate will be run by a group called Motion Debate who want to create a growing community where debate enthusiasts can learn the art of debate and the have the opportunity to put it to use. I'm all for it. We really need more public debating in our highly polarized country. And I'll say it again: nothing helps me learn a subject more than being forced to debate it.

As you probably expect, I'm debating on the CON side of the proposition, that an abundance of open source information is not more harmful to society. I've been wanting to get more into the arena of public debating because, well, I love debating, and because debating online doesn't give you the full experience. So I hope I do good, and I hope there are more to come. I've been told the debate will not be recorded, but it will be photographed. Future debates, which I might participate in, might be recorded. So stay tuned. For now, I have to finish up my argument.

Debate description:

Is it beneficial for all people to access and contribute to an unlimited open source information platform? Should authorities censor potentially dangerous content, or does freedom of expression outweigh these concerns?



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Quote Of The Day: H.L. Mencken On The Will Of The People


Nearly a century ago the American journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken predicted what seems like the rise of our soon-to-be president Trump.


Thanks to Jerry Coyne for tweeting this meme.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prison & Criminal Justice Reform


Since over 95% of prisoners will eventually be released, you have to ask yourself, do you want them to adjust back to society and stop committing crimes when they leave prison, or do you want them to continue reoffending? And do you want lower rates of crime in the future or more?

If the latter, then we should pretty much keep doing what we're doing, because the recidivism rate in the US is 76.6% after five years for state prisons and 44.9% for federal prisoners. So if your goal is to get as many people in prison as we can, and get as many of them as we can to commit more crimes upon release, you have to admit, we're doing a pretty good job. In fact, it wouldn't be absurd to blame someone for thinking that was indeed American's goal. We have the largest prison population in the world, by far, nearly double that of the next country on the list, China, which has four times our population. 


I don't think that anyone in their right mind would say what the US is doing now as far as its prison and criminal justice situation is what it should be doing. The fact of the matter is is that most of us agree with the same over all goals for our society: we want there to be less crime, and we want criminals who do go to prison to not commit additional crimes when they're released. Where we disagree is on how to achieve that common goal. 

Many Americans support retributive justice that often involve harsh penalties with a "lock them up and throw away the key" attitude where the conditions in prison should be as uncomfortable as possible. But this leads to the mass incarceration we have in the US with the high recidivism rates which are the very problems we want to resolve. So what do we do?

We reform our criminal justice system and our prisons. How do we do that? Here are some things we can do.

Should Liberals Spread Out More?


The presidential races in Texas have been getting tighter over the years. Last year Democrats lost the state by just 9.2 points, and 813,774 votes.


One complaint about how the electoral college works is that since liberals tend to be concentrated in densely clustered urban areas, their electoral votes tend to be counted less. One vote in Wyoming is equivalent to about four votes in my state of New York. This is due to the fact that low population states have higher electoral votes to voter ratios than high population states like California, New York, and Florida. So, the argument goes, in order to help get more Democrats in the White House liberals should spread out more.

One possible strategy of this is if enough liberals moved to Texas, they could flip Texas from red to blue and that would all but ensure no Republican would ever get elected to the White House ever again. Just 1 million more voting liberals in Texas could, in theory, make that happen. This is something possible in the 10 years or so.

I thought Republicans were never going to win another presidential race just a few years ago, but that was obviously before Trump came along. But he of course ran to the left of Hillary Clinton on many economic and trade issues which no other Republican would have ever done. It goes to show you the popularity of traditionally liberal views on trade and healthcare and their appeal to Republican voters. What will be the strategy for Republicans moving forward after Trump? Will they be able to embrace traditional old republicanism once again? Who knows. But if we're going to keep the antiquated electoral college system, a geographic shift of liberals might be needed.

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